Guilty Gear Strive Review: Striving for Unadulterated Fighting Bliss

Guilty Gear Strive continues the long-running series’ love of amazingly bizarre character designs, fantastic fighting action, and gorgeous visuals with superb results.

Arc System Works first introduced the world to Guilty Gear in 1998. For those of us who loved the genre of fighting games but were sick of endless Capcom and SNK clones and sequels, it was nothing short of magical. The series never received the amount of attention and love it deserved over the years, but it has thankfully kept on going anyway. 

The latest is Guilty Gear Strive, exclusively punching and kicking on the PS4 and PS5. Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator (and its updated version REV 2) were remarkable not just for the fighting action, but for their truly impressive cinematic 3D graphics. REV2 was stunning, but Strive is damn near jaw-dropping. 

Guilty Gear Strive Review: Striving for Unadulterated Fighting Bliss

Guilty Gear, as a whole, works so brilliantly largely because of the series' superb, over-the-top, and outright bizarre character design. The whole game world is rich, layered, and overflowing with lore, but the cast is so distinct that no other fighter really quite compares. You could argue that Capcom’s Darkstalkers comes close in terms of out-there character design, but that series sadly isn’t seen much nowadays.

The 15 character roster seems a little light in the face of the massive fighter list of so many others, but then most other fighting games only actually offer a few basic archetypes with different looks. Here, every character is its own boggling, unique thing. The blind warrior who fights with their shadow, a girl who throws sea creatures at you, the hella cool rock-n-roll witch, hulking automaton, all-out bruiser, samurai vampire, a deranged doctor who literally throws random objects… 

Guilty Gear’s line-up remains one of the most outrageously creative and gorgeously designed in all of gaming. The series is historically known for its overtly layered and complex fighting mechanics, with insane levels of special systems that nearly force the use of its in-depth tutorials. Strive has streamlined a lot of that to some extent. The game is more accessible, allowing more damage from smaller combos for instance.

The in-depth tutorials are still here (complete with mini “missions” to nail even more specific game mechanics), but Strive is a little easier for anyone to get into. That’s not to say those weird systems and subsystems are gone. There are still strangely-titled techniques and mechanics like dust, slash, “roman” cancels, burst, the tension gauge, multiple kinds of blocks… the list goes on.

But the focus is on quick, high-powered fighting that always feels satisfying. 

Essentially, the more you play, the deeper the gameplay gets. The presentation marries perfectly with the mechanics. Every hit has a visual and aural impact, every counter is accompanied with fanfare. It’s not an exaggeration to say Guilty Gear Strive is simply the most gorgeous anime-style fighting game ever made. Over the years, plenty of games have rivaled their anime-inspired roots, but Strive looks and feels like a controllable animated film. 

The expert use of camera angles, incredible animation, and amazingly detailed and refined characters and backgrounds are impeccable. While Strive is technically both a new and last-gen title, it’s entirely impressive to behold in a way that no other new-gen exclusive has yet been.

There are a few blemishes here, though. For the last few games, Guilty Gear has been relying on its non-interactive story mode as a kind of filler for single-player content. Where previously, it was more like a visual novel, in Strive, it’s closer to a several-hour-long anime. Honestly, the story for this series has always been so convoluted and overdone as to be nearly incomprehensible. The plot is mostly extraneous to the rest of the game, and the story mode isn’t helping matters.

Beyond that, there’s the basic arcade mode where you pick a fighter and fight through the other AI-controlled fighters, along with a bevy of Dojo training options. If Guilty Gear really wants to up the ante as a single-player fighter, it needs to learn how to incorporate the story mode into something actually meaningful and interactive (like Mortal Kombat has done). The arcade mode is still great, but a modern fighter needs a little more for us solo-minded players.

The multiplayer itself is rock solid. Online matches are fast, smooth, and responsive with nary a hint of lag in our testing. Unfortunately, the online play is buried in this admittedly charming, yet utterly unnecessary 8-bit side-scrolling lobby. You make a custom character before entering, fight a test match to determine your initial skill level, then wander around the multi-leveled pixel world looking for other players waiting to fight. 

You can spend earned coins to “fish,” which yields new customizable bits for your outfit and other things. There’s the cinema mode where you can watch recorded fights, alongside some other features. It all just feels like a barrier to quickly getting into a match though. 

Guilty Gear Strive Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Stunning presentation makes it easily one of the most gorgeous games out there
  • Incredibly deep and thrilling fighting action
  • Rock-solid online multiplayer
  • Amazing character designs make each fighter feel unique and special

Cons

  • Online lobby is cute, but actually makes getting into a multiplayer match more complicated and slower
  • Single-player modes are incredibly light
  • Story mode is non-interactive and fairly nonsensical

Guilty Gear Strive is the perfect time to get into this amazing series. It’s more accessible than ever and absolutely stunning to watch.

There’s still room for improvement in terms of the single-player modes, and the whole retro online matching setup is quaint but just adds unnecessary complication to the multiplayer. Otherwise, this is a solid fighting game worth playing. 

[Note: Arc System Works provided the copy of Guilty Gear Strive used for this review.]

Our Rating
9
Guilty Gear Strive continues the long-running series’ love of amazingly bizarre character designs, fantastic fighting action, and gorgeous visuals with superb results.
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5

Contributor

Jason D'Aprile has been writing about games and technology for a very long time. His bylines have appeared on and in countless sites and magazines over the years, including Paste Magazine, Playboy, G4TV, Indie Game Website, UploadVR, Techhive, Lifewire, the Brick Moon Fiction podcast, United Front Gaming, and others he's mostly forgotten about. Jason lives in a house in the woods and does not twit.

Published Jun. 11th 2021

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